Passan: The Anti-RAC

Eric Mangini sure looks like he knows how to say the right things, according to the OBR's Rich Passan. Now we get to see if he can do them.

After watching Eric Mangini's initial news conference last week as the new head coach of the Browns, it's easy to see why Randy Lerner made a move on him.

It doesn't take long to see that Mangini is smart, smooth, seemingly unflappable and, at times, downright engaging. Even doled out some self-deprecating humor.

In other words, he's the anti Romeo Crennel.

Word out of New York, where he spent three interesting seasons before feeling the blade of Jets owner Woody Johnson's ax, was that Mangini was a moody, dour individual who was a control freak.

Sound familiar? It should. That's Bill Belichick all over again.

Mangini is a Belichick clone in many ways, right down to the way he prepares his teams for games. But he's the anti-Belichick in that he doesn't mumble when he speaks. At least not right now.

I remember when Belichick took over as the Browns' coach back in 1991. At his first news conference, he spoke highly of the Browns' tradition and how important it was for the fans to embrace that.

He went out of his way to connect with a fan base he knew was as passionate about its team as any in the National Football League. It didn't take long, however, for Belichick to plumb his secretive, almost paranoid, ways to a whole new depth and create a disconnect with that fan base.

Mangini, in a gee-whiz sort of way, did the same thing as Belichick with his opening remarks when relating how he tried to convince his mother that being a ball boy for the Browns at the age of 23 in 1994 was important.

The eyes on his cherubic, still-boyish face lit up, almost sparkled when told that story to the assembled media. "Mom," he said, "these are the Cleveland Browns. The Cleveland Browns."

No doubt he brought that little slice of life up in his interview with Lerner, who must have sopped up every word. And no doubt he ratcheted up the club's history and how important it was for him to rejoin that history as the new head coach.

This was an opportunity that presented itself almost as quickly and stunningly as his dismissal from the Jets. And if he reasoned this might be his only shot at head coaching again in the NFL because of his reputation as a snitch, he was correct.

He had to know how fortunate he was that any NFL owner showed any interest in him after ratting out Belichick and the New England Patriots in the now infamous Spygate caper. He knew this was his one shot and he clearly took advantage of it.

Mangini had one very important thing going for him. He was an experienced NFL head coach, a prime factor in Lerner's search for Crennel's successor. The owner did not want another rookie head coach.

Hey, wasn't Bill Cowher a rookie head coach in the NFL? And Mike Tomlin? And John Harbaugh? And Mike Smith? And Don Shula? And Chuck Noll? And John Madden? And . . . well, you get the picture. Seems they all did rather well as rookie head coaches.

And what ever happened to the notion that the general manager is the organization man who usually makes that hire with the owner's blessing?

"When you are going out to hire a head coach and general manager," Lerner said on a Cleveland radio station last week, "it seemed do me that the head coach hire is the more urgent one. The longer you wait, the less people are available." Weak argument for pulling a premature trigger.

At the time, only four other teams were in the market for a coach. And none of them had knocked on Mangini's door. In fact, they weren't even in the same Zip code.

Mangini called his return to Cleveland as the head man "an incredible honor." Give the man credit. He knows how to say the right things.

He pushed all the correct buttons with Lerner, who claimed his new coach "nailed" the interview.

"I want to promise (the fans) that we're going to have good, hard-working, caring people in this organization," Mangini said. "We're all going to be working toward the same goal. And I promise you that's the vision. That's what we'll be pushing for every single day and that's what we'll be working for every single day."

He said he wants his players to be "smart, tough, hard-working, selfless and have a passion for the game." He wants "not just having talented players, but having talented players with character."

Don't most coaches want players like that?

There's no question Mangini, at first blush, is impressive. He speaks well, coordinates his thoughts well and seems comfortable with the media. So far.

If that continues into the season, there should be no problem as there was with Belichick, whose taciturn demeanor began rubbing a lot of people the wrong way shortly after he succeeded Bud Carson.

He alienated the media and ultimately a large segment of the fan base to the point where the Browns allegedly had to hire security to protect the Belichick home in suburban Cleveland.

Mangini says he learned a lot in his three years with the Jets. It'll be interesting to see how that translates with the Browns.

There's no question that discipline, on and off the field, will make a triumphant return to the Browns after a four-year absence. Nothing wrong with that.

The new coach hedged, however, when asked about who would be the face of the franchise. Based on what we've witnessed thus far, the answer seemed obvious.

Eric Mangini is the face of this franchise now. Not Randy Lerner. Not George Kokinis (if he's hired as the general manager, thanks to Mangini, unless Chris Polian or Charley Casserly or someone else "nails" the interview), not any of the players. This, ladies and gents, is the Eric Mangini Show.

His strong personality will see to it that it stays that way. How long remains to be seen.

All he has to do now is go out and back it up.

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